Being arrested is not a pleasant experience. But even after dealing with the immediate consequences of a criminal charge, an arrest record can come back to haunt you later in life. Criminal record checks occur in many areas of employment, and can also affect other areas of your life, such as a home study done before some adopts a child.
Expungement means that the arrest will not show up on a computerized criminal record check.
Update: Senate Bill 166
Senate bill 166 (Act 5 of 2016) was signed into law on February 16, 2016, and will take effect on November 12, 2016. A Court can grant a “limited access order,” for a person who has had a clean record for a period of 10 years, from the time of conviction, or release from confinement or supervision. This order applies (with some exceptions) to convictions for misdemeanors of the second or third degree, or other offenses where the maximum penalty is no more than two years. The Limited Access Order means that the conviction can only be released to a criminal justice agency, or certain government licensing agencies.
“Limited Access” is something less than a full expungement, but this does give another opportunity for individuals convicted of minor offenses to clean up their record.
When Can a Pennsylvania Arrest Record Be Expunged?
For certain first offenses, including DUI, and other misdemeanors, Pennsylvania offers the ARD (accelerated rehabilitative disposition) program. This program places the individual on probation for a period of time, and if he or she completes the program successfully, results in dismissal of the charges, and expungement of the criminal record. The case records do remain in the Courthouse, and the District Attorney keeps a record, which prevents someone from being admitted to the program a second time. This is the often the best option for persons who qualify for the program.
In other cases, expungement of an arrest record, which did not result in a conviction can be requested by petitioning a Judge. The decision on whether or not to expunge is left to the discretion of a Judge, who must balance the competing interests of the petitioner and the Commonwealth.
In cases where someone has been convicted of a criminal offense, the Pennsylvania legislature has strictly regulated expungement of records. Conviction records may be expunged only where:
(1) A person who was convicted of underage drinking, who has satisfied all requirements of the conviction can have the arrest expunged after age 21;
(2) An individual who is over 70 years of age, and has been free of arrest or prosecution for ten years following final release from confinement or supervision;
(3) An individual who has been dead for three years; or
(4) An individual who was charged with a summary offense (the least serious criminal offense, including charges such as harassment or public drunkenness) has been free of arrest or prosecution for five years following the conviction for that offense.
Certain major felonies, such as sexual assault of a child, cannot be expunged.
How Can I Get My Pennsylvania Arrest Record Expunged?
The procedure varies, depending on the basis for your request to expunge. In general, you will need to file a Petition with the Court of Common Pleas, in the County where the conviction or arrest occurred. Most persons will wish to consult an experienced criminal attorney to assist them.
Are There Any Other Ways to Expunge a Pennsylvania Record?
If the statute doesn’t permit expungement, the only other remedy in Pennsylvania is to request a Pardon, from the Pardon Board.